Gun stores, as Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs), handle millions upon thousands of background checks each year for their customers. It can be a somewhat emotionally charged process for the buyer. You have decided to buy a firearm. You have bought. You’ve found the one that suits your needs and got the best price from the dealer you want to work with. You are ready to buy. Now comes the background check. If you are new to this process, it is not uncommon to feel some nervousness and uncertainty. What will be the result? Will you be able to purchase the firearm you already feel is yours, or will all your painstaking work in making your selection be for naught? It can be even more stressful if you are trying to retrieve a firearm that you have temporarily pawned, perhaps a family heirloom. Most gun and pawn shops have seen just about every scenario. While complications do occur, this does not have to be a scary process.

A little knowledge helps alleviate most fears. First, let’s give a little exposition on what the background check system is. Background checks for firearm purchases became the law of the land with the Brady Firearms Violence Prevention Act, and on November 1, 1998 individual states were given the option to use the national system for this or establish your own. In my state, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation started TICS, or the TBI Instant Verification System. The Tennessee State Legislature mandated that the system must meet or exceed the requirements established by the Brady Act. In addition to checking against TBI records, the TICS unit performs a check against the NICS (National Instant Verification System) of both the prospective buyer and the firearm they intend to purchase. This ensures that the person is legally able to purchase a firearm and that there is nothing negative about the history of the firearm itself, in the case of previously owned firearms.

The details to run the verification are quite simple. The FFL (Federal Firearms Licensee or Gun Dealer) collects ten dollars, all of which is then forwarded to the state for the check. The prospective buyer enters their identity information on the TICS website, and the dealer confirms that it is you using your state-issued photo ID. Don’t forget to bring your license! Usually, in a very short time, the result will return. Sometimes, however, the check may take longer. Computers can crash or run slowly. It’s usually best to leave about 30 minutes before the gun store closes to start the background check and give yourself time to complete your purchase.

So all very well, but what about the results? All statuses produce a result of ‘Approved’ or ‘Denied’. Approved means there was nothing on the check to slow down the process. Denied means that something was returned on the check that could prevent the purchase of the firearm or the purchaser. It is also important to know that this is a rare case. On average, between 1999 and 2010, only about 2% of purchases were denied due to a background check. If the denial has to do with the buyer’s background, the good news is that the results of the verification can be appealed. It’s important to remember that sometimes incorrect, incomplete, or out-of-date information can still reside in people’s records, even after it’s supposed to be cleared up. Any of this can be for a wide range of reasons. Of those denied that were appealed, more than half were annulled and the buyer was able to continue with their purchase. Just remember, if you think you’ve been denied and shouldn’t have been, you can appeal, and your gun store will have information on how to start your appeal process.

In addition to ‘Approved’ and ‘Denied’, some states, including Tennessee, will also sometimes return a ‘Procedure Conditional’ result. Essentially, what this means is that there was something in the background check, so the system couldn’t resolve the disposition. The law states that the gun seller may, ‘in his sole discretion’, deliver the firearm to the buyer. This opens up a whole litany of potential post-sale complications, including the need to repossess the firearm by BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).

I don’t particularly like the fact that Tennessee offers the ‘Procedure Conditional’ result for a number of reasons. First the client is paying for a response; either a yes or a no, no uncertainty. Second, it legally exposes the armory to a potential civil lawsuit. We live in a country where anyone can sue someone for anything at any time, and often does. The honest owner of a gun store does not need to be sued by a thug’s family because he made the decision, in his ‘sole discretion’, to sell a firearm to a person who used it to legally defend himself against said thug, for example. It’s happened to dealers before. I think a smart store owner will only turn over a firearm to a buyer who passes the background check with a ‘Pass’ result. Instead of selling a firearm to a person at their sole discretion, a smart store owner will rely on the government to provide the discretion. Unfortunately, the ‘Conditional Procedure’ result can create confusion and frustration when a dealer does not deliver a firearm based on this dubious result. Among the gun shop merchants I know, I don’t know of a single one that will cast in ‘Conditional Procedure’. As with a ‘Denied’ result, a ‘Conditional Proceeding’ can be overturned through the same appeal process.

The important thing to remember about background checks for firearm purchases is that the process is not about judging your worth as a person. It’s about making sure that firearms are only sold to people who are legally authorized to buy them. Sometimes the systems used by the government are slow or incomplete in their information. If you believe you should legally be allowed to exercise your Second Amendment rights, but your background check says otherwise, there is recourse. While it will often take several days or sometimes even a few weeks to change the result to reflect the correct information, all is not lost. Just follow the rules and be patient. So remember to bring your driver’s license, leave about 30 minutes before the store closes for your background check, be patient, and breathe easy. Your gun store owner or dealer is there to help.

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